Amongst the numerous HTC handsets this year, the unassuming Touch 3G may not make the strongest impact, but it is certainly one of our favourites.
It's been nearly 18 months since we reviewed the original HTC Touch and yet very little has changed in the overall aesthetic. The newer model is a little thicker and not quite as wide, and the Touch 3G is available in a range of subdued colours, but it's essentially identical otherwise.
The Touch 3G is a very tidy package. Below the 2.8-inch touchscreen display is a trio of razor thin mechanical keys: start and end call buttons and a five-way nav keypad. For those struggling with the touchscreen navigation, HTC have included a toothpick-sized stylus sheathed on the top right of the handset. On the back is a flashless 3.2-megapixel camera and a micro USB port is located on the bottom edge. The lower half of the handset is tapered ever-so slightly, helping the phone to nestle comfortably in your palm.
One of the major advancements over last year's Touch is the inclusion of HTC's latest TouchFLO 2D menu system. Those familiar with the HTC Touch Diamond and Touch Pro will have heard about TouchFLO 3D, and, as the difference in naming suggests, TouchFLO 2D is the same interface system without several of the '3D' animations and transitions.
HTC know better than to leave out any of the standard range of smartphone hardware, and the Touch 3G is no exception. It features HSDPA data speeds(7.2Mbps) with quad-band support for GSM networks and dual-band UMTS network compatibility (900/2100MHz) — however the Touch 3G isn't compatible with Telstra's Next G network. For those looking to dodge network data charges the Touch 3G features Wi-Fi and it also sports a built-in GPS receiver with Google Maps pre-installed.
Running on Windows Mobile 6.1, the Touch 3G offers a range of business applications, with support for MS Exchange, push email, mobile versions of MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint, a PDF reader, plus a few convenient touches like threaded SMS messaging.
Out of the box the Touch 3G shares 256MB of memory between applications and free space for us to store music, photos and documents. It supports MicroSD expandable memory with a reader slot located under the battery cover.
Its 2.8-inch screen is a decent size for watching YouTube videos, but the mini-USB port doubling as a headphone port is one of our pet peeves. Not only does this mean you can't charge the phone and use headphones at the same time, but it also means you're stuck with the using the headphones in the box rather than your favourite cans. It's not really intended as a media player, and those looking for the best multimedia experience may want to wait for the release of the Touch HD in Q1 of 2009.
Paring down the TouchFLO interface from 3D to 2D is a good idea by HTC and no doubt contributes to the improved performance when compared to the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro. The upgraded processor is the other major factor in delivering zippy interface navigation. The Touch 3G employs a Qualcomm MSM7225 528MHz processor with 128MB of RAM and, for the most part, is quite a solid performer. Most everyday tasks like opening contacts lists and messaging is done with minimal lag, though we did need to keep an eye on tasks opened in the background to maintain best performance.
Online applications include the Opera Mini web browser, YouTube viewer and Google Maps, and are fantastic, with each receiving HTC interface makeovers to make using them as easy as possible. The browser is still one of our favourites, with sharp, clear page rendering and incremental zoom controls always at hand via an onscreen scroll bar.
Most impressive is the Touch 3G's battery life. HTC rates the battery cycles at 6.5 hours talk-time and nearly 19 days standby. During our tests we charged the Touch 3G every third or fourth day, which is a big improvement on the single-day battery life of the Touch Diamond.
While we've enjoyed using the Touch 3G, we can't help but wish it was something else. Rather than an upgrade to the Touch, we'd have welcomed an upgrade to the Touch Dual — with its numeric keypad — more so. HTC's latest mid-range smartphone is great, with good looks, solid performance and excellent battery life, but as a business messenger we think it would have profited from having mechanical input.
If you disagree with this and think you'd make good use of a phone without a keyboard then we highly recommend the Touch 3G. It's a phone that improves on many of the deal-breaking drawbacks of HTC's big releases this year.